Fresh siege at Islamabad's Red Mosque ends with deal


Islamabad, Feb 10 (IANS): Tensions have calmed at Islamabad's famous Red Mosque after an agreement was reached between authorities and cleric Abdul Aziz, who agreed to vacate the premises in exchange for the government's promise to allot him alternative land for an Islamic school.

The mosque was back in the eye of the storm since the police surrounded it, with the cleric and around 250 students holed up inside since Friday in a situation reminiscent of the 2007 conflict at the same mosque that left around 100 dead, reports Efe news.

"The government has agreed to give us alternative land... As a result of the agreement we have called back our 250 girl students from Jamia Hafsa Lal masjid (Red Mosque) and the government has ended its siege," Aziz told Efe news on Monday.

Aziz, who heads eight seminaries with some 5,000 students, started the protest because the government had refused to give him land on the outskirts of the city for the construction of an Islamic school, or madrassa, while also asking him to hand over another center of Islamic studies and to leave the Red Mosque.

The cleric, the former leader of the state-owned mosque, occupied the mosque a couple of weeks ago and on February 5, security forces surrounded the building but failed to prevent some 250 students from joining the cleric inside the next day.

Since then Aziz's demands had increased despite the police cutting off food supplies to the mosque in a bid to force his surrender.

On Sunday Aziz's wife Umme Hasan - the director of the cleric's female madrassas - had told Efe that the government was seeking "blood", and referred to the events of 2007.

In 2007, Aziz launched a violent campaign to impose Sharia Islamic religious law in the country and made threats of suicide attacks if his demands were not met.

That campaign prompted the security forces to storm his headquarters at the mosque after receiving reports of armed militants being present inside - an operation in which around 100 people were killed - after a week of unsuccessful negotiation attempts by the government.

Aziz had been captured trying to escape - disguised as a women in a burqa - after which his followers, most of them students of the madrassa, surrendered to the authorities.

The cleric was released on bail in 2009 after being arrested on multiple charges of inciting hatred, murder and kidnapping.

Over the weekend the police had stopped the media from photographing the mosque, surrounded by security forces, and refused to answer questions about what was happening.

  

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